Charms and the divining rod: Tradition and innovation in magic and pseudo-science, 15th to 21st centuries

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The rise of treasure hunting as a typical element of popular magic in the 15th century coincided with the beginnings of dowsing. Treasure hunters did not rely on the divining rod exclusively, they also used a variety of charms addressing the spirit world. In contrast to that, miners who used the divining rod treated it more like a technical instrument in a modern sense. With the success of mining as a motor of technical and economical innovation, the divining rod enjoyed a breath-taking career. In the 18th century, it had become the divinatory object par excellence that could be used to find virtually anything. The 19th century witnessed the breakdown of the traditional magico-religious treasure hunt. Instead of trying to talk to the spirit world in order to find treasures, treasure hunters became interested in historical narratives that provided clues which helped to discover hidden or lost objects. Even though dowsing was eliminated from professional mining, it managed to survive. The very fact that dowsing was largely non-communicative – it was even claimed that the ability to dowse depended entirely on the individual, inner and non-transferable qualities of the dowser – seemed to be the key to its continuing success in the area of fringe science and fringe medicine. Only in recent years, the new interest in spirituality combined dowsing and the use of incantations again.


Johannes Dillinger


Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


charm, divining rod, dowsing, treasure, water witching




Dillinger, J. () 'Charms and the divining rod: Tradition and innovation in magic and pseudo-science, 15th to 21st centuries', Incantatio : an international journal on charms, charmers and charming, 6, pp.9-23. DOI: 10.7592/Incantatio2017_6_Dillinger.